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#ShareMondays2020 – Hurting

Hurting

#ShareMondays2020 – Hurting

My image this week was inspired by my husband’s thoughts on the layout of last Monday’s image. He said it really reminded him of an album cover by the band Tears For Fears. Perhaps you remember it? It’s called The Hurting. A true masterpiece of musical commentary on social issues. I was really struck by how relevant this album still is. Mad World could definitely be an anthem for current times.

As I did previously with song titles from the late, great David Bowie, I have taken the titles from this album and reworked them into a “new” poem. Words from the past, still powerful in the present. (original lyrics by Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith)

Hurting

Are we broken?
The children suffer
In this
Mad world.
Change.
Memories fade
Since the
Start of the breakdown.
I am
The prisoner.
Watch me bleed
In my pale shelter.
The conflict
In my mind,
Ideas as opiates
To keep away from
The idea of opiates.
I won’t become a
Wino even though
I’m hurting.
We are
The hurting.
We are broken
But it will
Change.

The title song, The Hurting, has resonated with me for many years. It was released in 1983, not long before I became the victim of serious bullying at school. It carried on for many years and has affected me throughout my life. The mental scars are worse than the physical.

Could you understand a child
When he cries in pain?
Could you give him all he needs
Or do you feel the same?

(Verse 2: Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith)

I was seriously ill with Crohn’s disease for a number of years before finally being diagnosed in 1995. Recurrent bouts of diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, onset of asthma, malnourishment and rectal bleeding. Every doctor had their own theory and most of them were really just accusations of wrongdoing on my part. Making it up to get out of school, drugs, misuse of laxatives leading to anorexia, more drug abuse accusations (you do art don’t you?), munchausen’s syndrome, hypochondria. Many of these are genuine health conditions suffered by people, they do actually need treating, but the then medical profession used these words and phrases as if this was some kind of criminal activity. Diagnosis for IBD has improved over the years, but I’m sorry to say that many young people are still being stigmatised, marginalised and misdiagnosed.

All along
You’ve been told you’re wrong
When you felt it right
And you’re left to fight
The hurting

(Pre-Chorus 2: Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith)

And here we are now, 2020. I’ve faced many hurts in the intervening years. Some people might be forgiven for thinking that the greatest of these would have been my abdominal surgeries. Actually, the two most painful things were losing my ability to paint and being unable to have my own children. I think most of us are hurting at the moment. Whether through isolation, fear, grief, anxiety, financial instability, separation, pressure, work stress, trauma or perhaps a combination of these. Now, perhaps more than at any other time in our lives, we need to acknowledge these feelings, be kind to ourselves and seek help if we need it – Every Mind MattersSamaritansMind

Is it an horrific dream?
Am I sinking fast?
Could a person be so mean
As to laugh and laugh

On my own
Could you ease my load?
Could you see my pain?
Could you please explain
The hurting

(Verse 1: Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith)

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ShareMondays2020 – The Shielded

Shielded

ShareMondays2020 – The Shielded

So just who are The Shielded?

Well the media are rather misrepresenting us I think! We are the unseen 1.8million. We’re not all in care homes, aged over 70 or “people who would probably have died at some point this year”. If I hear, or read, one more report that claims that many of the Covid-19 related deaths don’t really count, because that person would have likely passed away soon anyway, I will scream! Every death is a person, an individual with loved ones. All the World War rhetoric inspired me to get hold of a vintage gas mask. DON’T wear one of these to protect yourself against Covid! It’s a representation of the suffocating mask I feel has been placed upon me. I can’t help but think of Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est! Please read it. I am stumbling and floundering.

Masked

Many people in The Shielded group are there because they have a lifelong illness that requires immunosuppression. This could be because of cancer, organ transplant or autoimmune disease. The aim of our treatment is to give us as long a life as possible! Many people in this group are young. Most people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis – are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25. I was 19yrs old. My mother was told that it was 50/50 if I would actually make it through the night. I stay shielded so that she, and the rest of my loved ones, don’t have to hear that kind of news again, because I’ve contracted coronavirus!

Shielded Warriors

While the majority of the population are now thinking about the easing of lockdown, The Shielded know that we’ve got a few more months of being shut away in our own homes, before we can even get that “one exercise outing per day”. Count your lucky stars people! We’re not superheroes, just ordinary people who would like to get on with our lives in the usual way too. Some people are waiting for operations, new therapies, hospital referrals or local treatments. Part of normal life for a lot of us. We’ve accepted that certain things have had to go on hold. You can help us get back to our normal by Staying Home, Protecting The NHS and Saving Lives. Who knows, you might even save mine!

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ShareMondays2020 – Life In Lockdown

Destroyed

ShareMondays2020 – Life In Lockdown

I set myself another learning challenge this week which forced me to stick myself in front of lens! I wanted to learn how to create a displacement layer with text to overlay onto my face. I watched several video tutorials on YouTube, and pieced together elements from the different approaches, to find a method that worked for me. The text is from one of my own poems called Identity, a self-portrait in words if you like! I used an online tool to place the text into a word or tagcloud. There are several available. You can also add the text straight into Photoshop and arrange as you want.

Self Portrait in LockdownDisplaced IdentityDisplaced Identity

Identity

Do you know me yet?
My name is whispered in
The gathering breeze,
Sung with elation by
The wild breaking seas.
It screams from the cliff tops
Into soft, shadowed lees
And is hushed by the warmth
Of tumbling leaves,
A gentle susurration
Twixt autumnal trees.

I have flown on the winds,
Delved fathomless oceans,
Fallen great heights,
Risen from depthless emotions.
Felt the warmth on my face
Of a sun kissed horizon.
I’m the song of the earth.
My roots run far, deep, and wide,
Bearing scars of life lived,
From your sight, I’ll not hide.

My height is unmeasured,
My depths undiscovered.
‘Tho my glow may be dimmed,
My soul still recovered.
I am born of this world,
A sweet force of nature,
A creature of magic,
Mother, lover, carer, creator.
Determined, desired,
Oft’ tired, yet inspired.
A wild thing, set free!
I ask you again,
Do you, yet, know me?

This video is a good starting point!

I decided to take a number of portraits while I was set up for it and try to convey some of the emotions that so many of us are feeling during lockdown. Not even being able to leave my flat, as a shielded individual, I’m feeling the pressure even more. The outdoors has always been my sanctuary, my coping strategy. Channelling my feelings into photography and poetry has been a good outlet for me. Learning is my main coping strategy now! I’ve always loved learning, but the good feelings and sense of achievement are more important to me now than ever before!

My homages to The Scream and Anxiety by Edvard Munch

I couldn’t resist a homage to Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry.

Two Minutes To MidnightHidden

And then I decided to really try and let my inner turmoil and frustration show. I’m only human, of course it gets to me! And although my Crohn’s has had me housebound or stuck in hospital for weeks on end before, nothing can quite prepare you for something like this. Especially knowing that I am so vulnerable to complications if I was to contract the virus. It is frightening. It is desperate. We need to everything we can to keep minimising the spread of Covid-19, staying home, protecting the NHS and the incredible front line staff and all key workers. Together we CAN save lives.

DestroyedDestroyedDestroyed

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One Four Challenge: February Week 4

One Four Challenge: February Week 4

One Four Challenge: February Week 4

Here’s my last edit for February’s One Four Challenge, hosted by Robyn Gosby at Captivate Me. I’m not going to give you a run down of the processes this week as it would be just a bit too much! I’ve used a combination of all the processes used in my first three edits and added the butterflies and flowers using the polygonal lasso tool in PS. My inspiration this week was drawn from a pen and ink design I created many years ago, using a self-portrait to create a playing card Queen of Hearts. My design had been based up a pen and ink drawing that my father had created, during his own college days, of a fairytale style playing card! I hope you’ve all enjoyed my tributes to past works and different mediums as much as I have. I’m still deciding on my image for March but it has been suggested to me that I tackle a landscape. What do you think?

If you would like to pick a favourite (it’s not obligatory!) please use this poll and/or leave me some feedback and suggestions for future One Four Challenges in the comments 🙂

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One Four Challenge: February Week 2

One Four Challenge: February Week 2

One Four Challenge: February Week 2

For the second week of February’s One Four Challenge, hosted by Robyn Gosby at Captivate Me, I wanted to create an effect that resembles charcoal and watercolour. I really enjoyed using that mix of mediums when doing life studies, often on textured pastel paper. It was a fast and free technique that gave a lovely flow to lines and created extra depth to shadowed areas. Rubbing in some chalk to the still wet paper would bring out the highlights and complete the sketch.

Photoshop CC
Cleanup Background
Solarise
Invert with Difference Blending
Increase Brightness and Contrast
Reduce Noise 100%
Make 3 new Copy Layers
Copy Layer 1 apply Poster Edges
Darker Colour Blending 50%
Copy Layer 2 apply Dry Brush
Normal Blending 55%
Copy Layer 3 apply Diffuse Glow
Normal Blending 30%
Add B&W Texture Layer
Create Layer Mask
Soft Black Brush Low Opacity gradually remove texture from figure
Merge Visible
GTG – Painterly Soft with Multiply Blending 50%
Adjust Levels
Use Soft White Low Opacity Brush to enhance highlights and lift unwanted shadow
Increase Brightness
Decrease Contrast
Add Warming Photo Filter
Use Blur and Smudge tools to accentuate “brush” strokes

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One Four Challenge: February Week 1

One Four Challenge: February Week 1

One Four Challenge: February Week 1

It’s time for February’s One Four Challenge, hosted by Robyn Gosby at Captivate Me. A new month, an old image with a brand new look. The original photographs were taken in early 2007 on a Fuji Bridge camera. I think it was a 5mp camera, which really goes to show how fast technology is moving! I took a lot of images in the camera’s own B&W mode at that time as it had been what I was most used to in film photography. The portraits were originally taken as part of a photomontage project for the National Portrait Gallery’s annual photographic competition. I haven’t had any of my images included in the exhibition but I really enjoy the process of creating images for the competition, it’s a great motivator 🙂 I’ll include my 2007 entry within my gallery and, as ever, I would love your feedback and criticism on my processes!

Photoshop CC
Clean up base image and remove shadows
Invert with Linear Light Blending
Merge Down
Invert with Screen Blending
Merge Down
Invert with Difference Blending 50%
Merge Down
Soft Edge Glow Action 50%
Soft Posterise
Save Snapshot
Rippled Oil Texture 40%
Merge Visible
Add Snapshot with Lighten Blending
Public Domain Texture Overlay
Difference Blending
Masking Layer – use soft, low opacity brush to remove texture
2nd Texture Overlay
Overlay Blending 60%
Use soft white brush to paint over dark edges on portrait
Flatten Image
Add White Canvas Border

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Travel Theme: Broken

Self Portrait in Hospital

Travel Theme: Broken

Well that’ll be me then! This post comes as a way of explaining my late responses to you all for comments on my posts over the last week or so. Both my immune and nervous systems are well and truly broken resulting in Crohn’s and Fibromyalgia. My consultants and I do everything we can to stabilise my conditions and I have a lot of support, especially from my wonderful Simon, to enable me to have as full a life as I can. I think you all know that I get a lot of joy and happiness out of life and I make the very best of the good days. This might be wordy so I’ll break it up with some pretty pictures! They were taken on my phone in the beautiful and quirky Igloo Flowers shop in an old Victorian Arch  in the underpass that leads from Guy’s Hospital to London Bridge Underground station. I’d like to dedicate these flowers to all my fellow bloggers with chronic and life limiting illnesses like mine. You know who you are!

Sometimes things can go rather wrong for me. They certainly did last week! My teeth are in a bad way because of the Crohn’s and I’m seeing dentists at Guy’s Hospital in London now. On Tuesday one of my molars had to be removed as it’s been badly broken for a long time and I’ve been getting persistent infections. We still don’t know exactly what went so wrong but it’s suspected that the very large amount of local anaesthetic that I was given, alongside the severity of the infection, sparked off a really bad Fibromyalgia attack.

It hit me full on, without any warning, while mum and I were on the train heading home. I know I scared mum and I probably freaked out the other passengers too! It’s probably a bit like watching someone having a fit. Uncontrollable shakes, extreme sweating, complete weakness and horrific pain everywhere. To my shame and horror I had to be lifted off the train at my home station, by paramedics, before being rushed into my second hospital of the day. I do apologise to passengers on the 16:55 from Waterloo last Tuesday for having delayed the train! I just hope nobody missed any connections at Woking.

It was close to midnight before I was allowed home with Simon. The following day I still felt like I’d been in a car crash and my local GP prescribed some extra antibiotics as I still had a very high temperature. I so wish that that was the end of the sorry tale but by Friday my face was complete agony! My local dentist confirmed that the infection had spread through my upper and lower jaw and added in a third antibiotic, called Metronidazole, and codeine to take between doses of tramadol. Yes, shake me, I rattle!

I’m still in a lot of pain but I’m finally on the mend from at least this particular episode! The hospital will probably have to put me out before removing any more broken teeth. I’m not going through all that again I can tell you! My main image above is actually a self-portrait that I did in St Marks Hospital (a specialist bowel centre) the night before my fourth major abdominal surgery, three and a half years ago. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever share it but it certainly fits this week’s theme. The main thing is that I accept that I’m a bit broken, vulnerable and I do need a lot of help, but I’m certainly not useless.

I found a lot of strength in accepting my vulnerability. There’s no point in recriminations, regrets, guilt or anger. Life’s far too short for that and there’s so much to enjoy when you can. The help I get from my loved ones, friends and care workers enables me to do so much more than I’d be able to otherwise. I like to celebrate all the things I love in life through my photography and poetry, that you all enjoy what I do is a real confirmation that what I am able to do matters, that I matter.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

Threshold: Also called limen. Psychology, Physiology . the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect: the threshold of consciousness; a low threshold of pain.

People often speak about having either a low or high pain threshold. I think that’s a difficult thing to quantify! My own threshold is the point at which it becomes unbearable, the point at which I break.

I’m often told that I’m brave. I don’t really feel it! Chronic illness doesn’t give you many choices. You just have to make the best of a bad situation, to find and hold onto the good and beautiful things in life.

Some years ago I made a series of self portraits when I was in a lot of pain, both physical and emotional. My Crohn’s disease had recently spread and was causing a very rare set of symptoms. I was in such agony and was having real difficulty in getting the right medical support and treatment.

It’s taken five years to finally get the complete diagnosis and a treatment plan that keeps the symptoms somewhat under control. I have Ano-genital Crohn’s with secondary psoriasis. There are only thirty cases, that know of, being treated by the specialist hospitals in London and the South East. At times I feel very isolated.

My pain threshold has been breached on far too many occasions! Thankfully the latest steroid cream has kept the wounds at a minimum and it’s been about sixth months since I last had to use any morphine.

All this is in addition to my general levels of pain from Crohn’s and Fibromyalgia. Every day feels like I’ve just been in a car crash! I couldn’t really tell you how I cope, I just don’t have any other choice.

So I just wanted to say to people that everyone has a breaking point! No one should feel like they have to put on a brave face all the time. It’s not a competition as to who can hold out the longest. If you know someone with chronic illness, let them be vulnerable, accept that their pain is real and sometimes uncontrollable. Just be there for them when you can.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

This weeks challenge brought up a mix of emotions for me. Living with chronic illness for almost twenty years has often led to feelings of abandonment.

Whenever emotion becomes overwhelming I try to let it out through art and poetry. It’s a hard thing to do when life and society knocks you back again and again.

I’m fortunate to have my art as an outlet and a wonderful support network of family, friends, care workers, Specialist Nurses and Consultants. They all love my art too!

These wonderful people have helped me to rebuild my life every single time that my illnesses have tried to break me apart. They will never abandon me and I love them dearly for that and so much more!

My featured image this week is a photomontage called “Not Yet Dead” (2008/9). It’s an evolutionary piece following an oil painting made shortly after my diagnosis with Crohn’s, entitled “To The Grave” (1996/7).

These self-portraits and their companion poems document the hard times but are also a statement of intent, I won’t be kept down or left behind no matter what life throws at me!